Friday, February 23, 2018

'Nothing temporary about work' -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

The good times are back and we don't need Prozac! The conservatives who run Spain and most of Europe would have us believe this is because the economic growth figures and employment statistics are apparently rising at a faster rate than they have for almost a decade (when the average person was plunged into a 'crisis' that was not of our making.)

What we have to ask is who is now benefiting from this bright new dawn?

In actual fact, the IMF recently found that over the last few years the economic gap between the rich and poor has grown faster in Spain than any other country in Europe.

Astoundingly, the number of millionaires has risen by 40% but the number of Spaniards living in “severe material deprivation” doubled to just over three million people, according to the charity Oxfam.

The profits from economic growth have been almost completely handed to the wealthiest.

And who is in new work?

Again, the reality is bleak. Temporary workers now make up more than a quarter of the workforce in Spain and this is not only for seasonal work.

Part-time contracts have become more common among hospital workers, teachers, those in the information technology industry and even public servants.

Statistics show that short-term jobs made up about 90% of the contracts signed last year. Roughly one in four lasted seven days or less.

According to a report from the highly informative Business Over Tapas news service, the UGT (one of Spain's most influential unions) said that the labour market was still suffering the effects of the crisis and austerity measures implemented by Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government.

"In December 2017 just four out of every 100 contracts signed were long-term and full-time," they found.

In my experience there is another attitude to work here that is strange. It is the dominance of so-called “projects” inside companies and it is used to justify poor work conditions.

This means that our jobs are often made up of tasks that have very limited time windows and require bursts of energy rather than methodical or consistent effort.

It’s a symptom of the era we live in that what we care about are events, festivals and spectacles more than equality or social justice and this has infected the way we work too.

Short-term thinking and short-term contracts have been at the cost of longer-term economic planning by both governments and companies: the exact thing that has helped Japan and China produce new industries out of ruins.

This ‘temporariness’ might sit well in a modern world where our attention spans are shorter than ever before but it disturbs me.

If work is to be satisfying (or even fulfilling) it must have a greater purpose than the simple moving of objects from one place to another or the organisation/supervision of this activity. (That is how the great philosopher Bertrand Russell defined work.)

If we accept the proposition that we will spend the longest part of our lives working, it is obvious that work itself is anything but temporary.

What we essentially do in our jobs goes on day after day and to do these jobs well demands concentration, focus and significant psychological effort.

When this is taken for granted in the form of almost meaningless ‘contracts’ (which are almost always written by employers alone) it insults our existence as living creatures who have evolved beyond animalistic toil and servitude.

But as Russell also argued, on top all this there are the idle rich, who “are able to make others pay for the privilege of being allowed to exist and to work.”

This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, February 2018.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

"Is Europe truly recovering?"

"Nobel laureate Paul Krugman wrote an opinion article last Sunday arguing that Europe is recovering steadily from the 2008 financial crisis. 

Indeed, graphs and numbers suggest as much. 

But we should be skeptical whether this economic recovery will result in widespread economic gains, and even more skeptical that it will suppress Europe’s political shift to the far right.

Underneath the graphs and numbers, there is a much quieter story of daily struggle and disappointment. People are hesitant to believe that Europe’s future is bright. 
Even the International Monetary [Fund, the IMF] admits that income inequalities grew across generations in Europe. In the meantime, the rich are getting richer worldwide, boosting income inequalities even further. How can we call this a recovery if its gains go so disproportionately to the very top?
Even Krugman’s analysis acknowledges an exception: Greece. This raises additional challenging questions. 
How can Europeans really and truly recover if some countries are left with strict austerity for decades to come? Is Europe a ‘success story’ if youth unemployment is at 40% in Greece
This, of course, under the economic stewardship of the troika."
Read more from DiEM25 member Aris  here.

Friday, February 2, 2018

"As the European migrant trail has gone underground, the threat of sexual violence has increased"

"When Simin reached Europe, she thought the hardest part of her journey was behind her. 

She left her native Iran, where she had lived all of her 44 years, because she feared being arrested for her work as a journalist. It took her three months to travel from Iran to Serbia, much of it by foot across mountains and borders.
But it was when she was crossing into Croatia that the worst happened. She was raped by two smugglers, themselves migrants, from Afghanistan.
“The smugglers forced me to be with them. He threatened to not let me get in the car if I refused being with him,” says Simin, who is living in a center for refugees on the outskirts of Zagreb, Croatia.
“I had to do it. I was a woman alone — all on my own.”

A common story

Simin’s story is one of many similar accounts from women who have traveled the European migrant trail since the crisis began in 2015.
Rights groups say women face assault, harassment and sexual violence at every step of the way along the trail, including on European soil.
And there are signs that the environment for attacks against women along the route has only worsened since the height of the crisis. European countries have closed their borders and pushed the trail underground, putting women at greater risk than ever before.  
Many sexual crimes go unreported due to the precarious legal status of the victims as they cross borders and try to avoid authorities. And even when women do report incidents they have little hope of justice, for the same reason.
Read more from source at PRI, here.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

"The [top] 1% grabbed 82% of all wealth created in 2017"

"More than $8 of every $10 of wealth created last year went to the richest 1%.

That's according to a new report from Oxfam International, which estimates that the bottom 50% of the world's population saw no increase in wealth.
Oxfam says the trend shows that the global economy is skewed in favor of the rich, rewarding wealth instead of work.
"The billionaire boom is not a sign of a thriving economy but a symptom of a failing economic system," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International.
The head of the advocacy group argued that the people who "make our clothes, assemble our phones and grow our food" are being exploited in order to enrich corporations and the super wealthy."
Read more from source here.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

"God-bloggerer" -- My latest opinion column for Catalonia Today magazine

[Photo: DNA strand. Religion did not give us this.]
 I call myself an atheist because god has not been proven to any clear degree, but like other people I can enjoy certain things that are called “the spiritual”.
I think the biggest mystery is to do with what we call consciousness and this is one of the enticingly ’wonder-full’ areas that art and creativity can put to use so well.
One problem of atheism is that some atheists go too far by maintaining that religious-inspired work is automatically somehow wrong, regardless of its content.
I only have to listen to someone like the Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to feel the power of his voice as an expression of something right and good, even though I don’t share the love of Allah that fuels that voice.
We all need that sense of awe and humility that comes from, say, the extraordinariness of so much in the natural world: all that science cannot explain or come near to doing justice to. (There is after all, not even an adequate definition of what a thought is.)
Plenty of scientist-atheists have no problem with the unknown and the transient, in fact they embrace it and some even work at finding answers in it, though they often end up with more questions than they started with.
When religion asks questions, I applaud it. But when it simply quotes ancient texts or ‘interprets’ them I start to twitch.
I think it makes perfect sense to doubt what you know. The attitude of “I could be wrong, but...[insert opinion]” is the most sensible one to have because without it there is either blind faith or the conceit of absolute certainty.
I think this is the healthy basis of what we could call moral concerns. Organised religion often likes to claim that it has a monopoly on the ethically correct outlook but too often the people who are making the claims have not genuinely questioned their beliefs and have instead relied on their traditional leaders to set out a position first.
Equally, the celebrities that are so admired in today’s world are often ignorant about basic scientific truth but we still hold many of them up as role models and guiding lights. Even someone as cerebral as Barack Obama recently made comments linking vaccines to a supposed rise in autism.
It seems like this era’s obsession with the body, rather than the mind or the continuing inequality that exists across the globe, means that everything from karma to astrology to detox dieting is legitimate as something to believe in and use as a basis of living.
If our species can eliminate superstition we will have eliminated a major cause of our problems.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, January 2018.]

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Spain gang-rape case exposes problems in justice system

["I believe you." Photo:  
Vincent West/Reuters ]
 "On Nov. 14, a young woman entered the Navarre provincial court in northern Spain, a bottle of water in one hand, a piece of paper in the other. She sat on a chair placed at the center of the room before a tribunal and then, probed along by her attorney, recounted the events from two summers past that have dominated Spanish headlines since.
The young woman from Madrid, known only as la víctima, “the victim,” in local media, was 18 then when she alleges she was raped by five men in the early morning hours of July 7, 2016. She’d gone to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls — the city’s celebrated and testosterone-fueled tradition of “bullfights, street dancing ... and much drinking of strong Spanish wine,” as immortalized by one American superfan.
According to her testimony, she’d lost sight of the friend she’d traveled with and ended up making her way toward the car, which they'd planned on spending the night in. When a group of five male friends from Seville, strangers to her until then, struck up a conversation and suggested accompanying her to the vehicle, she accepted. At some point while they twisted their way down the dark streets, they led her to a doorway, pulled her in and took turns raping her, she said. When they’d finished, they seized her phone and left. After some time, she got dressed, sought help and reported the rape. It was only later after she’d pressed charges, and a trial was underway, that she discovered the men had filmed the act on their phones and shared the videos in their WhatsApp group.
The meat and bones of the retelling over, Navarre district attorney Elena Sarasate suddenly veered into new territory. “You seem to be a pretty social and extroverted young person,” she stated before the tribunal. “Do you usually post on social media?”
“Yes,” the young woman replied. “But I’m not going to post pictures of myself crying. I’m trying to lead a normal life. I’m not going to post a picture of myself on social media crying so that everyone can ask, ‘What happened to that girl?’ No. I’m going to continue living normally, and what I normally do is post pictures of myself out partying.”
What would appear to be an unusual turn in the woman’s testimony — her social media habits — has become the crux of the case known as La Manada, or “The Wolf Pack,” after the five accused men’s WhatsApp group name. In a bid to prove the young woman was not raped but consented to having group sex, the men’s defense hinges on proving she did not suffer any trauma following the sex act, which they’ve chiefly done by presenting social media posts showing her out with friends, knocking back a few drinks, or sharing content of an ostensibly sexual nature.
To the prosecution and feminist collectives the country over, the defense’s tactic is an age-old trope with new technological trappings — an updated version of “She was asking for it because she wore a miniskirt.” For the defense, it’s a necessary method designed to reflect the plaintiff’s psychological makeup. The trial ended in late November, and a verdict is still pending. If found guilty, the accused could each face up to 25 years and nine months in prison. The decision will have far-reaching implications. How much can social media reflect a person’s psychology or establish a motive? And should that content be admitted in a court of law?"

Read more from source at PRI/Global Post here.

Friday, January 5, 2018

"Reclaiming the commons" -- an interview with veteran land rights campaigner George Monbiot

"Guy Shrubsole speaks to veteran land rights campaigner George Monbiot...

Movements for land reform in the British Isles have ebbed and flowed for centuries. Each new wave can seek to learn from the past - or be destined to repeat its mistakes. The Land senses that the past year has seen a fresh flowering of public interest in land issues - sparked by the ongoing housing crisis, the Grenfell Tower disaster, debates about farming post-Brexit, and other factors. It’s a good time to take stock, so this section brings together voices, new and established, to make sense of the current moment and lend momentum to a new, rising land movement. It features veteran land rights campaigners George Monbiot, Marion Shoard, and Andy Wightman, includes a graphic history of UK land movements, and an assessment of land value capture as a mechanism for economic fairness, before introducing a representative of the Other Side, and some of the activists and organisations of today’s land movement. 

GS: What first got you interested in land and land rights? 

GM: I was working in Brazil in the late 1980s, and I was interested in why so many people were moving into the Amazon, often with quite damaging impacts on the rainforests. It didn’t take me long to see that people were being effectively forced to go because their own land was being stolen from them in their home states. A group of very violent businesspeople supported by the Government were seizing the land owned by peasant communities. People with indigenous roots often going back millennia, but who didn’t have written, legal title to their land; rather it had been held by them in common for a very long time. There were people being killed left, right and centre; there was a bishop who was murdered. I spent long enough there to get beaten up myself by the military police. Then after six years of working in Brazil, West Papua and East Africa, I returned to Britain, and was persuaded by some of my friends to go along to Twyford Down, where there was this huge dispute over a road being driven through beautiful chalk downland and Iron Age remains. And as soon as I got there I thought, this is what I’ve been seeing in Brazil. This is a land dispute over land massively valued by local people, being taken from them by an outside force – in this case, government combined with a huge construction company, and everything that people value here being destroyed. I started reading the poems of John Clare, and saw how his early poetry documented the rich life of the community in which he was brought up, and the way their lives were granted meaning by the land, spiritually, ceremonially, economically, socially – and then his later poems, like The Fallen Elm, documenting the destruction of that entire system through enclosure. And I realised that this was exactly the same process that I’d seen happening amongst indigenous people in the three continents in which I’d worked. Alienation and anomie leading to psychic rupture. And then I realised that what I’d witnessed there is still with us here, in Britain today. 

GS: In 1995 you wrote A Land Reform Manifesto, in which you criticised a huge landowning estate for selling off its land for the Newbury bypass to be built. At the time you said a landed estate’s “power to treat its property as it wishes is scarcely restrained. It is this that lies at the heart of our environmental crisis” . Do you still believe that? 

GM: Well, I would take it further. Land as an issue has to be painfully uncovered, because it’s so successfully hidden from us. Hidden in a thousand ways – hidden by the media, obviously; hidden by economics, which discusses land as if it were any other form of capital, a great methodological mistake; hidden by the power of patrimonial capital. It’s not just the power of the great estates to do as they will; my thinking’s gone way beyond that – it’s the conversion of broad possession into narrow property in general. It’s the almost complete closure of a whole sector of the economy, the commons, and its replacement by both state and market." 

Read more from The Land Magazine [PDF] here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

"Don't be fooled, the crisis is still there: the Euro is in danger"

[Photo: Barcelona, 9 Nov. 2017, 

Today in El País - Yanis Varoufakis, co-founder of DiEM25...

"The current situation reminds me of 2001: we came from twenty years of stringing bubbles, the dotcom broke out, and even so we managed to stay the same and provoked an even more serious crisis with an even larger bubble that burst in 2008. 

We run the risk of going back to the old ways. In Spain, total debt is rising. In Italy there is capital flight, a banking crisis in the making, an explosive political situation. 

What we have in Greece cannot be called recovery, and the debt is unpayable. 

The examples are inexhaustible. 

Throughout the periphery we exchanged full-time jobs for precarious jobs, thereby endangering future pensions and the foundations of the European economy. 

The financial and macroeconomic imbalances not only have not been reduced, but are even greater: I am afraid that we are not in a position to celebrate...The euro, as it is today, is unsustainable." 

Full interview in Castilian Spanish here:

Saturday, December 23, 2017

VIDEO: "Meet DiEM25"

"Almost two years ago, we got together under DiEM25’s broad umbrella [Democracy in Europe Movement] to challenge old-style politics, to shatter TINA (“There Is No Alternative”) at the pan-European level, to turn Europe’s democratisation into a radical, realistic, uniting project.
2017 was an awful year for European democracy. But it was an amazing year for DiEM25. We:
  • Rallied tens of thousands of people in cities including Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin, Dublin, Belfast, Hamburg, and London, and toured the breadth and length of Greece & Italy, demonstrating that There is An Alternative; that Another Europe Is Already Here!
  • Nurtured our activists. There are now 70,000 DiEMers in almost every country on the planet!
  • Launched and pushed specific campaigns to expose the Establishment’s worst abuses – and we just filed a lawsuit against the European Central Bank to force them to release #TheGreekFiles
  • Launched our European New Dealour concrete social and economic Policy Agenda, crowd-sourced from DiEM25ers and experts across the world
  • Influenced elections with our interventions, like in Germany, France and the UK, and supported/partnered with candidates or parties that embraced them, like in Catalonia, Zagreb, Denmark and Poland
  • Welcomed progressive leaders to our movement, like Naomi Klein and Richard Sennett
  • Kickstarted the process for taking the European New Deal to a polling station near every European – at the Volksbuehne Theatre, in Berlin
  • Began electing our Coordinating Collective
  • Presented the Real State of the Union in Brussels, at the Bozar Theatre
  • Set in motion the ‘Not Just Another Political Party’ endeavour
  • Elected our first National Collectives (NCs), taking to new levels our ambitious experiment in grassroots transnational democracy – with all members (despite nationality) voting for different national collectives..."

Read more about DiEM25 here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

"The High Cost of Denying Class War"

"In 2016, the year of both Brexit and Trump, two pieces of data, dutifully neglected by the shrewdest of establishment analysts, told the story. In the United States, more than half of American families did not qualify, according to Federal Reserve data, to take out a loan that would allow them to buy the cheapest car for sale (the Nissan Versa sedan, priced at $12,825). 

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, over 40% of families relied on either credit or food banks to feed themselves and cover basic needs..."

Read more from this article by DiEM25's co-founder Yanis Varoufakis here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

VIDEO: "To be a progressive..." (6 months after the British election)

"It’s exactly six months today, since [Britain] went to the polls. 

As the clock struck ten and we held our breath for the exit poll, few guessed the extraordinary result that was to come. Against all the odds, a Tory landslide had been stopped in its tracks – and a big part of that was down to the Progressive Alliance...

The impact of this is already being felt. We believe we are starting to see the end of austerity, and the beginning of a restoration of our public services, with the lifting of the cap on pay rises for parts of the public sector.

It wasn’t just that the Progressive Alliance got us more progressive MPs – it introduced a different kind of politics that was non-tribal and about something bigger than any single party. Through the Progressive Alliance we found out what we all have in common...

Watching it takes us back to that time, and revives the feelings of pride and gratitude (and relief!) that we hope you share.

Some days the news can make us angry or sad, even fill us with desperation. 

On these moments, it can be helpful to remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing, and why it matters to continue to believe in, and fight for, a better world. 

Whether you’ve seen it before or not – this five-minute story will give your progressive spirit a boost:

Watch it here (YouTube Link) 
Or here (Facebook link) "

Monday, December 4, 2017

"A ray of hope for Europeans" -- My latest article for Catalonia Today magazine

Ultra-conservatives will always do what their natures demand.

Given any opportunity, they strangle democracy while at the same time claiming that it is democracy that they want to breathe life into.

The horrifying repression in Catalonia is an extreme illustration of this and makes a perfect example of right wing crimes against humanity but it is certainly not the only current case of the most privileged in society making sure they stay in complete control.

Over the border in France, President Emmanuel Macron (the man whose election held off a far-right National Front victory) brought down his first budget.

He handed a huge €7 billion tax cut to the wealthy and slashed social spending which included robbing €1.7 billion from housing aid and the elimination of 120,000 state-funded short-term job contracts.

In Italy, three time Prime Minister and convicted tax fraud billionaire Silvio Berlusconi is gone but the forces he represented are still alive and kicking hard. In Sicily -- as with much of the country -- a rightist alliance has had considerable electoral success blaming their economic problems and high unemployment on immigrants.

Of course it is actually the policy of continuing austerity which allows precious investment to go into speculation rather than job creation that is truly at fault for low living standards there and right across the continent.

But people can see immigrants and refugees every day in the streets where they live and the market economy is harder to point at and blame. All this at a time where public health services are being sold off to private business interests and hospitals are “‘close to collapse’ in Rome, Turin and Naples.”

In the upcoming 2019 European elections there is a new and exciting alternative for voters who have seen the EU parliament as irrelevant to our lives. Understandably, most voters find it difficult to even name a single one of their representatives in Brussels but until now there has been little reason to care.

The arrival of academic and author Yanis Varoufakis’ Diem25 (Democracy in Europe Movement) has given those with a progressive outlook something credible to believe in. Varoufakis has a very personal reason to want to democratise Europe.

The International Monetary Fund and German-backed troika refused to negotiate with him in 2015 when he was the new Greek Finance Minister. Keeping his integrity intact, he resigned from the government and went on to be a cofounder of DiEM25 only one year ago.

In a remarkably short time, under the main slogan of “Transparency for Europe” this ‘pan-European’ activist movement has come up with a persuasive and comprehensive manifesto.

Their basic argument is that unless Europe and its institutions become genuinely democratic then it is doomed to disintegrate.

Partly inspired by the clear historical success of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal in breaking the Great Depression of the 1930s in the USA, DiEM25 has developed its own highly detailed European New Deal to end the mainstream EU dogma that there is no alternative to more years of severe austerity and secret backroom deals.

Varoufakis and his organisation are also offering concrete proposals that include a Basic Universal Income, refugee justice and crucially, a plan to tame capital and finance. Amongst other major changes, they are in favour of “regulating banking and establishing a new public digital payments platform that ends the monopoly of banks over Europe’s payments.”

At the moment, DiEM25 is in the process of getting votes from its members to decide whether to become a political party that will stand candidates in the 2019 European election.

If the response is a ‘Yes’ then ordinary men and women across Europe will finally have something worthwhile to get behind and support.

[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, December 2017.]